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Along with devouring turkey and exchanging gifts with loved ones, late December is probably best known for plopping down on the couch and enjoying college football Bowl season. With action already underway across the United States and the big BCS playoff games still to come, many football fans are in their glory, while ex-players and coaches are feeling nostalgic.
BC Lions linebackers coach Chris Tormey is no exception. The career football junky was part four Rose Bowl victories with the University of Washington Huskies, the first two as a graduate assistant in 1981 and ’82 and then two more a decade late as a top assistant to legendary head coach Don James (Pictured below left).
The early experiences proved to be an indicator to just how lucrative the football-coaching gig could get.
“I didn’t really know any better at that stage,” recalled Tormey.
“In 1980 ( the season preceding the ’81 Rose Bowl in January) I would have been 25 years old and here we were playing against Michigan in the Rose Bowl. I was spoiled at an early stage in my coaching career. It doesn’t happen like that everywhere obviously.”
Tormey quickly climbed the Huskies coaching ladder and was still in the fold in the early 90’s when the program had re- established itself as a national power with Mark Brunell at quarterback.
After taking down Iowa in the January, 1991 “Granddaddy of Them All,” Tormey and the Huskies were right back there a year later with a chance to win the National Championship.
“This was also before they had the playoff system, so each of the Bowl Games had their own spectacular circumstances around them,” said Tormey.
They took down Michigan 34-14 and for Tormey it was rewarding to see some of the players he had himself recruited perform so well on the big stage.
“We had a lot of great players on those teams. Napoleon Kaufman and Mark Brunell were both guys from the Central Coast of California that I recruited. Both were standouts in the Rose Bowl. Mark was the MVP of the ’92 game. Probably the most dominant player in that game was a guy named Steve Emtman. He was from Cheney High School in Spokane and we recruited him. His work ethic was off the charts; he started three years for the Huskies and was just a dominant player in that game. It was one of the best defensive performances I had ever seen,” remembered Tormey.
Along with the glory and playing in front of over 100,000 screaming fans in an historic venue, the Rose Bowl also provided an opportunity for some bonding in the Happiest Place on Earth.
“It was always a two-week trip so you’d go down early and stay at the Anaheim Marriott next to Disneyland. The families were all included so it was fun for them,” explained Tormey.
“The players didn’t have a curfew for the first week, they spent all their per diem and the second week it was all business. It was a good strategy.”
Bowl games can also serve as a building block for smaller, less established programs to make their footprint in the NCAA. Tormey’s successful tenure as head coach at Idaho is a prime example. The Vandals storybook 1998 season ended with an appearance in the Humanitarian Bowl- now known as the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl- where they overcame massive odds against Southern Miss.
“We kind of came out of nowhere. I think there were ranked last out of 116 teams in division one and we kind of had a magical year,” recalled Tormey.
“We beat Boise State in overtime to close out the regular season and had a chance to play Southern Miss in the Humanitarian Bowl, the first ever Bowl game for Idaho. I think we were 16-point underdogs in that game and it was wild. We won 42-35, had a kickoff return for a touchdown and the reason we probably won was because he had five takeaways. I don’t think we ever actually punted. It was a great day for Vandal football,” recalled the former Big West Conference Coach of the Year.
Idaho has been back to the same Bowl game twice since them, winning in both 2009 and 2016.
Those experiences mean so much for Tormey that he and his wife Kellie gave one of their daughters the middle name “Rose.”
“Emily Rose Tormey, born in 1991. Coincidentally she also has an aunt named Rose and that’s what I told my wife; that we’d name her after her aunt,” laughed Tormey.
“After that it was clearly a special experience for our family and us. So that’s her middle name.”
After enjoying some well-earned time off and college football action, Tormey will be hard at work preparing for his third season coaching the Lions linebackers. Having the likes of Solomon Elimimian, Micah Awe, Dyshawn Davis and Jordan Herdman can certainly give him hope of talking about another championship down the road.